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The mentor is a person (usually in a company) who has a plan of action (that responds to the environment or worksetting) to help the learner to develop his or her knowledge, skills, abilities and contextual awareness through time-limited, confidential, one-to-one conversations and other learning activities. Mentors are normally experienced and skilled in the learner’s area of work and usually work in the same setting as the learner, though mentors for some professional programmes may be drawn from a different organisation. Additionally, a mentor may have as an action plan to help the mentee acquire the social and generic employment skills.
The tutor is a teacher or trainer (usually from outside the learner’s immediate work environment) who has a curriculum that belongs more to the learner’s personal skillset, to support individuals or small groups to learn at work. The purpose of tutoring is to help, assist and guide people to develop their knowledge and skills and to improve their abilities as independent learners in the workplace, and where relevant their employability and transition into work. The tutor is not necessarily related to the profession of the learner, so this should not be his/her role.
The term ‘mentor’ originates from Greek mythology where Mentor was the name of the mythological hero Odysseus’ friend to whom he entrusted his son when he had to leave. It was the task of Mentor to take care of the son while his father was away. The mentor needs to be willing to share his or her knowledge and experience, but in a way that supports the development of the learner without being overly prescriptive. Depending on the context and the needs of the learner, the mentor may be concerned principally with professional development, or may also act as a role model, supporter, critical friend, and guide to help the learner settle into the work environment. The mentor will often act as a ‘sounding-board’ for the learner, and help the learner reflect on and learn from episodes of work activity. S/he may also act as a workplace trainer and coach, although the mentoring role should normally be more about facilitating and enabling than training. While the role of the mentor is work-related, mentors can inevitably become drawn into other aspects of learners’ lives – particularly when these affect work performance. The mentor needs to respond to these constructively, but also needs to prevent them taking over the mentoring relationship – s/he is not a counsellor or social worker, and needs to be able to draw an appropriate line and refer the learner to other sources of support where needed. If the mentor is not the learner’s immediate supervisor, the mentor will also have to manage the relationship with the supervisor or manager, and may need to agree who is responsible for what tasks and guidance in relation to the learner. In many situations it is preferable for the learner to have a mentor who is not involved in supervising him or her; in others, particularly professional settings where there is a more even balance of power between learner and supervisor, the supervisor could be the best person to be the learner’s mentor.
The term ‘tutor’ is often applied to any teacher, lecturer or trainer who guides learners on an education or qualification programme. In this context it relates to an educator or trainer from outside the learner’s immediate work environment who is involved in supporting the learner’s development and monitoring his or her progress. The tutor’s role is generally concerned with the learning programme rather than with specific applications in the learner’s work context, or the learner’s induction into how the organisation works. Where learners are not already established in work, the tutor will also be involved in developing their employability and transition into the workplace. In some contexts (such as placements and apprenticeships) the tutor may also be responsible for overseeing the welfare of the learner. The tutor role can be organised in various ways. The tutor may be involved in workplace coaching and training regarding social and generic employment skills; may provide one-to-one or small group support in the workplace; may provide training sessions for learners; or any combination of these. The tutor will normally liaise with both the learner and the mentor. His or her main role is concerned with the development of the learner, but s/he should also check that the relationship between learner and mentor are working effectively, and ensure that the mentor has enough knowledge of the learner’s programme to provide effective support. The tutor may need to become involved in guiding the mentor and the learner in relation to specific aspects of the learner’s development or in helping them to tackle particular issues at work. While the role of the tutor is primarily developmental, tutors can inevitably become drawn into other aspects of learners’ lives – particularly when these affect learning, or where there is a pastoral responsibility for instance for learners aged under 18. The tutor needs to respond to these constructively, but also to draw an appropriate line and refer the learner to other sources of support where needed.